Rethinking the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Two peoples. One piece of land. No wonder there’s a conflict, right? But what if this common perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is wrong? What if this view of the conflict obscures more than it explains? What if it distorts our understanding, rather than helps unravel the conflict?

There are of course two peoples who fight over land. But that surface-level account fails to identify basic ideas shaping the core of the conflict. Muddying the issue further is the conventional remedy: negotiations leading to a “two state” solution. Why? Because it pushes to one side serious moral questions at the crux of the conflict: how should we judge the adversaries? Their goals? Their deeds? The underlying assumption is that neither side is fully in the right, nor fully in the wrong; both are morally gray.

The facts, however, belie that conventional perspective. We need to rethink it. To begin to understand and unravel the conflict, we need to start with an unflinching, objective moral judgment of the adversaries. By what standard? The principle of individual rights. That principle fixes our attention squarely on the irreplaceable lives of individuals and defines the necessary political condition — freedom — they need to pursue their own goals and to flourish. The principle of rights can serve as an objective standard for evaluating the nature and conduct of Israel’s government, of the Palestinian cause, and of America’s policy. In this talk, I indicate what that looks like (my upcoming book tackles the topic in depth).

I gave this talk in July at the Objectivist Summer Conference 2015, a forum for fans and scholars of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and its applications to life and culture. My analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is informed by Rand’s philosophic framework. You’ll notice that I take for granted a general understanding of Rand’s moral account of individual rights. If you’re new to Ayn Rand’s thought, you might start out with her essays “Man’s Rights,” “The Nature of Government” and “What Is Capitalism?”

(Originally published on Times of Israel.)

Image: Ronnie Chua via